J A N UA RY 2 0 10
The five attributes of enduring
family businesses
The keys to long-term success are professional management
and keeping the family committed to and capable of carrying on
as the owner.
Christian Caspar, Ana Karina Dias, and Heinz-Peter Elstrodt
Family businesses are an often overlooked form of ownership. Yet they are all around
us—from neighborhood mom-and-pop stores and the millions of small and midsize companies
that underpin many economies to household names such as BMW, Samsung, and Wal-Mart
Stores. One-third of all companies in the S&P 500 index and 40 percent of the 250 largest
companies in France and Germany are defned as family businesses, meaning that a family
owns a signifcant share and can infuence important decisions, particularly the election of the
chairman and CEO.
As family businesses expand from their entrepreneurial beginnings, they face unique
performance and governance challenges. The generations that follow the founder, for example,
may insist on running the company even though they are not suited for the job. And as the
number of family shareholders increases exponentially generation by generation, with few
actually working in the business, the commitment to carry on as owners can’t be taken for
granted. Indeed, less than 30 percent of family businesses survive into the third generation of
family ownership. Those that do, however, tend to perform well over time compared with their
corporate peers, according to recent McKinsey research. Their performance suggests that they
have a story of interest not only to family businesses around the world, of various sizes and in
various stages of development, but also to companies with other forms of ownership.
To be successful as both the company and the family grow, a family business must meet
two intertwined challenges: achieving strong business performance and keeping the family
committed to and capable of carrying on as the owner. Five dimensions of activity must work
well and in synchrony: harmonious relations within the family and an understanding of how
it should be involved with the business, an ownership structure that provides suffcient capital
for growth while allowing the family to control key parts of the business, strong governance
of the company and a dynamic business portfolio, professional management of the family’s
wealth, and charitable foundations to promote family values across generations (Exhibit 1).
Family businesses can go under for many reasons, including family conficts over money,
nepotism leading to poor management, and infghting over the succession of power from one
generation to the next. Regulating the family’s roles as shareholders, board members, and
managers is essential because it can help avoid these pitfalls.
Large family businesses that survive for many generations make sure to permeate their ethos
of ownership with a strong sense of purpose. Over decades, they develop oral and written
agreements that address issues such as the composition and election of the company’s board,
the key board decisions that require a consensus or a qualifed majority, the appointment of
the CEO, the conditions in which family members can (and can’t) work in the business, and
some of the boundaries for corporate and fnancial strategy. The continual development
and interpretation of these agreements, and the governance decisions guided by them, may
involve several kinds of family forums. A family council representing different branches and
generations of the family, for instance, may be responsible to a larger family assembly used to
build consensus on major issues.
Long-term survivors usually share a meritocratic approach to management. There’s no single
rule for all, however—policies depend partly on the size of the family, its values, the education
of its members, and the industries in which the business competes. For example, the Australia-
based investment business ROI Group, which now spans four generations of the Owens family,
encourages family members to work outside the business frst and gain relevant experience
before seeking senior-management positions at ROI. Any appointment to them must be
approved both by the owners’ board, which represents the family, and the advisory council, a
group of independent business advisers who provide strategic guidance to the board.
As families grow and ownership fragments, family institutions play an important role
in making continued ownership meaningful by nurturing family values and giving new
Web 2010
Family business
Exhibit 1 of 3
Glance: For a family business to be successful, five dimensions of activity must be working well
and in synchrony.
Exhibit title: Five dimensions
• Family forums
• Family policies
• Family services
Wealth management
• Investment office
• Legacy assets and new
• Governance
Business and portfolio
• Corporate governance
• Dynamic portfolio evolution
– Business portfolio
– Capital composition, structure
– New-business development
• Management and governance
of family’s own foundation
• Third-party foundations
• Shareholder agreements
• Holding structures
• Legal documents
Exhibit 1
Five dimensions
generations a sense of pride in the company’s contribution to society. Family offces, some
employing less than a handful of professionals, others as many as 40, can bring together family
members who want to pursue common interests, such as social work, often through large
charity organizations linked to the family. The offce may help organize regular gatherings
that offer large families a chance to bond, to teach young members how to be knowledgeable
and productive shareholders, and to vote formally or informally on important matters. It can
also keep the family happy by providing investment, tax, and even concierge services to its
Maintaining family control or infuence while raising fresh capital for the business and
satisfying the family’s cash needs is an equation that must be addressed, since it’s a major
source of potential confict, particularly in the transition of power from one generation to the
next. Enduring family businesses regulate ownership issues—for example, how shares can
(and cannot) be traded inside and outside the family—through carefully designed shareholders’
agreements that usually last for 15 to 20 years.
Many of these family businesses are privately held holding companies with reasonably
independent subsidiaries that might be publicly owned, though in general the family holding
company fully controls the more important ones. By keeping the holding private, the family
avoids conficts of interest with more diversifed institutional investors looking for higher
short-term returns. Financial policies often aim to keep the family in control. Many family
businesses pay relatively low dividends because reinvesting profts is a good way to expand
without diluting ownership by issuing new stock or assuming big debts.
In fact, some families decide to shut external investors out of the entire business and to fuel
growth by reinvesting most of the profts, which requires good proftability and relatively low
dividends. Others decide to bring in private equity as a way to inject capital and introduce a
more effective corporate governance culture. In 2000, for example, the private-equity investor
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts gave Zumtobel, the Austria-based European market leader for
professional lighting, a capital infusion (KKR exited in 2006). Such deals can add value, but the
downside is that they dilute family control. Others take the IPO route and foat a portion of the
shares. An IPO can also be a way to provide liquidity at a fair market price for family members
wanting to exit as shareholders.
To keep control, many family businesses restrict the trading of shares. Family shareholders
who want to sell must offer their siblings and then their cousins the right of frst refusal. In
addition, the holding often buys back shares from exiting family members. Payout policies are
usually long term to avoid decapitalizing the business.
Because exit is restricted and dividends are comparatively low, some family businesses have
resorted to “generational liquidity events” to satisfy the family’s cash needs. These may take
the form of sales of publicly traded businesses in the holding or of sales of family shares to
employees or to the company itself, with the proceeds going to the family. One chairman said
of his company, “Every generation has a major liquidity event, and then we can go on with the
Governance and the business portfolio
With clear rules and guidelines as an anchor, family enterprises can get on with their business
strategies. Two success factors show up frequently: strong boards and a long-term view coupled
with a prudent but dynamic portfolio strategy.
Strong boards
Large and durable family businesses tend to have strong governance. Members of these families
avoid the principal–agent issue by participating actively in the work of company boards, where
they monitor performance diligently and draw on deep industry knowledge gained through
a long history. On average, 39 percent of the board members of family businesses are inside
directors (including 20 percent who belong to the family), compared with 23 percent in
nonfamily companies, according to an analysis of the S&P 500.
“The family is a true asset to
the management team, since they have been around the industry for decades,” said the CEO of a
family business. “Still, they separate ownership and management in a good way.”
Of course, it’s important to complement the family’s knowledge with the fresh strategic
perspectives of qualifed outsiders. Even when a family holds all of the equity in a company, its
board will most likely include a signifcant proportion of outside directors. One family has a
rule that half of the seats on the board should be occupied by outside CEOs who run businesses
at least three times larger than the family one.
Procedures for all nominations to the board—insiders as well as outsiders—differ from
company to company. Some boards select new members and then seek consent by an inner
family committee and formal approval by a shareholder assembly. Formal mechanisms differ;
what counts most is for the family to understand the importance of a strong board, which
should be deeply involved in top-executive matters and manage the business portfolio actively.
Many have meetings that stretch over several days to discuss corporate strategy in detail.
Family businesses, like their nonfamily peers, face the challenge of attracting and retaining
world-class talent to the board and to key executive positions. In this respect, they have a
handicap because nonfamily executives might fear that family members make important
decisions informally and that a glass ceiling limits the career opportunities of outsiders. Still,
family businesses often emphasize caring and loyalty, which some talented people may see as
values above and beyond what nonfamily corporations offer.
Ronald C. Anderson and David M. Reeb, “Founding-family ownership and frm performance: Evidence from the S&P 500,”
The Journal of Finance, 2003, Volume 58, Number 3, pp. 1301–27.
A long-term portfolio view
Successful family companies usually seek steady long-term growth and performance to
avoid risking the family’s wealth and control of the business. This approach tends to shield
them from the temptation—which has recently brought many corporations to their knees—of
pursuing maximum short-term performance at the expense of long-term company health. A
longer-term planning horizon and more moderate risk taking serve the interests of debt holders
too, so family businesses tend to have not only lower levels of fnancial leverage but also a lower
cost of debt than their corporate peers do (Exhibit 2).
The longer perspective may make family businesses less successful during booms but increases
their chances of staying alive in periods of crisis and of achieving healthy returns over time.
In fact, despite the unique challenges facing family-infuenced businesses, from 1997 to 2009
a broad index of publicly traded ones in the United States and Western Europe achieved total
returns to shareholders two to three percentage points higher than those of the MSCI World,
Exhibit 2
Taking the long view
Lower levels of financial leverage . . .
. . . and a lower cost of debt
Median debt-to-equity ratio, %
Benchmark of peer
The average yield spread on
corporate bonds is 32 basis
points lower for family-owned
Web 2010
Family business
Exhibit 2 of 3
Glance: Family businesses tend to have lower levels of financial leverage and a lower cost of debt
than their corporate peers.
Exhibit title: Taking the long view
Annual median of current constituents of S&P 500, HDAX, and SBF 120 (Société des Bourses Françaises 120 Index); excludes
financial companies and family businesses.
Annual median of sample of 149 family-influenced companies in United States and Western Europe; excludes financial
Sample consisted of 250 industrial firms in S&P 500 from 1993–98; weighted for factors that influence spread differences (eg,
degree of leverage, performance, company size, credit rating).
Source: McKinsey's corporate performance analysis tool (CPAT); McKinsey analysis
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
the S&P 500, and the MSCI Europe indexes (Exhibit 3). It is diffcult to provide statistical
proof that the family infuence was the main driver. The results were surprisingly stable across
geographies and industries, however, and indicate that family businesses have performed at
least in line with the market—a fnding corroborated by academic research.
Exhibit 3
Healthy returns
over time
10-year total returns to shareholders (TRS)
By sector
By region
average, Jan 1997–
Sept 2009, %
average, Jan 1997–
Sept 2009, %
Web 2010
Family business
Exhibit 3 of 3
Glance: Publicly traded family-influenced companies often have higher total returns to
shareholders than do leading indexes such as MSCI World, the S&P 500, and MSCI Europe.
Exhibit title: Healthy returns over time
Compound annual growth rate.
Sample consisted of 154 publicly listed family-influenced companies (ie, those with >10% family ownership at end of 2007) in
United States and Western Europe.
Société des Bourses Françaises 120 Index.
Source: Thomson Reuters Datastream; McKinsey's corporate performance analysis tool (CPAT); McKinsey analysis
MSCI World
MSCI Europe
SBF 120
S&P 500
United States,
Western Europe
Germany France United States
Family businesses
MSCI World
Industrial Consumer
MSCI World
MSCI World
MSCI World
MSCI World
MSCI World
See Ronald C. Anderson; David M. Reeb, “Founding-family ownership and frm performance: Evidence from the S&P 500,”
The Journal of Finance, 2003, Volume 58, Number 3, pp. 1301–27; and also Roberto Barontini and Lorenzo Caprio,
“The effect of family control on frm value and performance: Evidence from continental Europe,” EFA 2005 Moscow Meetings
paper, 2005.
This long-term focus implies relatively conservative portfolio strategies based on competencies
built over time, coupled with moderate diversifcation around the core businesses and, in
many cases, a natural preference for organic growth. Family-infuenced businesses tend to
be prudent when they do M&A, making smaller but more value-creating deals than their
corporate counterparts do, according to our analysis of M&A deals worth over $500 million
in the United States and Western Europe from 2005 to late 2009. The average deal of family
businesses was 15 percent smaller, but the total value added through it—measured by market
capitalization after the announcement—was 10.5 percentage points, compared with 6.3 points
for their nonfamily counterparts.

Nonetheless, too much prudence can be dangerous. Family owners, who usually have a
signifcant part of their wealth associated with the business, face the challenge of preventing
an excessive aversion to risk from infuencing company decisions. Excessive risk aversion
might, for example, unduly limit investments to maintain and build competitive advantage
and to diversify the family’s wealth. Diversifcation is important not only for overall long-term
performance but also for control because it helps make it unnecessary for family members to
take money out of the business and diversify their assets themselves.
That’s why most large, successful family-infuenced survivors are multibusiness companies
that renew their portfolios over time. While some have a wide array of unconnected businesses,
most focus on two to four main sectors. In general, family businesses seek a mix: companies
with stable cash fows and others with higher risk and returns. Many complement a group of
core enterprises with venture capital and private-equity arms in which they invest 10 to 20
percent of their equity. The idea is to renew the portfolio constantly so that the family holding
can preserve a good mix of investments by shifting gradually from mature to growth sectors.
Wealth management
Beyond the core holdings, families need strong capabilities for managing their wealth,
usually held in liquid assets, semiliquid ones (such as investments in hedge funds or private-
equity funds), and stakes in other companies. By diversifying risk and providing a source
of cash to the family in conjunction with liquidity events, successful wealth management helps
preserve harmony.
Success is not a sure thing. Many wealthy families around the world lost a lot of money
in the fnancial crisis—losses that vary by geography but averaged 30 to 60 percent from the
second quarter of 2008 to the frst quarter of 2009. One European family investor with a
portfolio mainly in the money market and in prime income-generating real estate lost less than
The sample includes 78 deals for family-owned businesses and 494 deals for businesses not owned by families. The acquirers
(both kinds of companies) were constituents of the US S&P 500, the German HDAX, or the French SBF 120 (Société des
Bourses Françaises 120 Index) stock indexes. Value added through the deal is defned as the change in market capitalization,
adjusted for market movements, from two days prior to two days after the announcement. The analysis includes all deals
completed from 2005 to late 2009 with a value of over $500 million in which the acquirers’ ownership went from nothing to
100 percent.
5 percent. At the other extreme, a family investor in the same country, with 80 percent of his
assets in real-estate developments and hedge funds, both with 50 to 70 percent leverage, lost
30 to 50 percent of the value in these asset classes at the peak of the crisis.
These different outcomes highlight the importance of a professional organization with strong,
consolidated, and rigorous risk management to oversee the wealth family businesses generate.
For large fortunes, the best solution is a wealth-management offce serving a single family—
either a separate entity or part of a family offce providing a range of family services (described
earlier in this article). A wealth-management offce that serves a group of unconnected families
is an option when individual ones don’t have the scale to justify the cost of a single-family
Our work with family wealth-management offces has helped us identify fve key factors
that increase the chances of success: a high level of professionalism, with institutionalized
processes and procedures; rigorous investment and divestment criteria; strict performance
management; a strong risk-management culture, with aggregated risk measurement and
monitoring; and thoughtful talent management.
Charity is an important element in keeping families committed to the business, by providing
meaningful jobs for family members who don’t work in it and by promoting family values as
the generations come and go. Sharing wealth in an act of social responsibility also generates
good will toward the business. Foundations set up by entrepreneurial families represent a huge
share of philanthropic giving around the world. In the United States, they include 13 of the 20
largest players, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Money alone does not guarantee a high social impact. In addition to the fnancial and
operational issues facing any charitable activity, families must cope with the critical challenge
of nurturing a consensus on the direction of their philanthropic activities from one generation
to the next. Some family foundations have tackled the issue by creating a discretionary
spending budget allowing family members to fnance projects that interest them. Others give
them opportunities to serve on the board or staff of the foundation or to participate directly
in philanthropic projects through onsite visits and volunteering schemes. This approach is an
especially powerful way to engage the next generation early on.
Family foundations also face organizational and operational choices about how best to use
their funds. Several have concluded that in today’s complex environment, partnerships—for
example, with nonprofts or nongovernmental organizations—can promote the family’s social
goals. These foundations build on the experience and local presence of other organizations,
particularly when implementing projects in unfamiliar geographies.
To ensure high performance and continual improvement, family foundations must combine
passion with professionalism and a strict assessment of their impact. Despite the diffculties of
assessing it, this is vital to make progress and allocate resources effectively. In our experience,
family foundations should focus their monitoring and evaluation efforts around learning
and improved decision making. They must also approach operations with the mind-set of an
investor—minimizing operating costs and making prudent investments in strategy, planning,
and evaluation as well as in highly qualifed staff.
Almost all companies start out as family businesses, but only those that master the challenges
intrinsic to this form of ownership endure and prosper over the generations. The work involved
is complex, extensive, and never-ending, but the evidence suggests that it is worth the effort for
the family, the business, and society at large.
The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of Andres Maldonado, an alumnus of McKinsey’s São Paulo office.
Christian Caspar is a director in McKinsey’s Zurich office; Ana Karina Dias is an associate principal in the São Paulo
office, where Heinz-Peter Elstrodt is a director. Copyright © 2010 McKinsey & Company. All rights reserved.

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